Do not expect privacy if charged with a crime, says police standards body

·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Martin Brayley/Alamy</span>
Photograph: Martin Brayley/Alamy

People charged with a crime should have no reasonable expectation of privacy, the national policing standards body has said.

The statement from the College of Policing came after media organisations raised concerns over proposed changes to the college’s guidance that stated forces across England and Wales no longer “should” name those charged with crimes including indecent exposure, domestic violence or child sexual abuse, instead advising that individuals “can be named”.

The college said on Thursday that amendments to the guidance had been proposed by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to take account of evolving data protection law.

The News Media Association and the National Union of Journalists were among the organisations who opposed the proposals, which were shared with large publishers for feedback before release to police forces.

Chief constable Andy Marsh, chief executive of the College of Policing, said: “An open, transparent, and professional working relationship between the police service and the media is essential to public trust.

“Our guidance to police forces is clear that at the point an individual is charged with a crime, there should be no reasonable expectation of privacy. We believe this is strongly in the public interest and compatible with data protection law.”

The college held a meeting with the ICO on Friday to understand its position and outline the importance of transparency, open justice and the ability of the media to get the information they need to do their job.

It will maintain the current position that “those charged with an offence – including those who receive a summons to court – should be named, unless there is an exceptional and legitimate policing purpose for not doing so or reporting restrictions apply”.

The new guidance had suggested that suspects are named only “where the crime is of a serious nature such as rape or murder” or where the incident has already been reported in the media or on social media sites.

This led to concerns in the media industry that individual police forces could choose whether or not to name suspects for a wide range of crimes such as arson, grievous bodily harm and robbery.

Crime reporters also argued the new guidelines could make it much harder for them to cover criminal cases because journalists need a defendant’s name in order to find details of their first court appearance.

Rebecca Camber, the chairr of the Crime Reporters Association, said: “These proposals ran contrary to the fundamental fairness of our criminal justice system and democracy.

“If police forces have the power to choose which criminal charges they release, what is to stop them hushing up the prosecution of police officers or covering up miscarriages of justice?

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“How can the public have faith that officers are carrying out their duties independently, without fear or favour, if forces are able to select which crimes and which suspects they talk about?

“We are pleased the College of Policing has listened to our concerns and scrapped this ill-thought-out guidance.”

An ICO spokesperson said: “Data protection law acts as an enabling tool for the effective disclosure of information. We encourage all organisations to continue to make decisions based on public interest, balanced alongside the privacy rights of the individual.

“We spoke to the College of Policing about their guidance in 2021 as part of our regular work with all organisations to provide certainty on what the law means in practice and how it can enable them to do their work.”